lessons from America

Denver Diary – Tuesday 26 Aug

A slow start to the day, feeling the effects of the night before and all my blogging.  At lunchtime I made my way to downtown Denver, to the Sheraton Hotel, for the Emily’s List reception. 

On the way I took this photo of the Denver skyline – a reminder if ever I needed one of the differences with the UK:

Emily’s List is the organisation that not just pushes for more women in politics and elected office but raises money for pro-choice female Democratic candidates.  “Early money is like yeast – it makes the dough rise” is their famous slogan and where their name comes from.  Their event is one of the biggest and most high profile at Convention.  $50 was the price of basic entry which I had to stump up (via a sponsor).  All these occasions are treated as fundraisers as well as having political and social purposes.

You can read what I thought of the event and the main speeches here 

Hillary was the one people had been waiting for:


You can see how far back us plebs who only donated $50 for the privilege of getting in were located. The VIPs who donated lots more money get to go in a reserved area closer to the stage.

Michelle Obama was my favourite – I’ve really warmed to her:


Hillary’s supporters were out in force in the room:


But there were plenty of people there happy to proclaim their Obama support, including this woman with the wonderful t-shirt ‘grandparents for Obama’.

And so to outside and the myriad protests which were going in the full public glare. First, the ‘nut jobs’: 


Then the fluffy ones:


But competing for my – and everyone else’s – attention (and winning) were the amazing array of merchandising stalls, official and unofficial, along 16th Street Mall.  I found some upmarket Obama and McCain dolls for sale … and got shouted out by the storeowner for taking a picture of them.


The walk through downtown took a long longer than it should have done, but I finally made it to the Bus Project’s ‘Trick or Vote’ reception.  It’s an awesome idea: door-to-door youth voter registration and turnout push on Halloween, just days before the election.  Americans take Halloween so much more seriously than us in terms of the dressing up. And that was proved at this reception, where along with the usual scary monsters, we had Roger and Jessica Rabbit helping out:


Leaving with my goodie bag (contents were everything you’d expect from the party’s theme), I walked the one block to the Big Tent; where I ended up spending most of the evening.

Over dinner, I happened to be sitting opposite Nate, which was a great piece of luck as I’d so far failed to track him down.  Nate is the founder of the fivethirtyeight blog – the one which I have drawn inspiration from for this blog.  After doing my bit of idol worship, we then chatted about UK politics, electoral reform and polling.  Unsurprisingly, Nate is not a huge fan of the national popular vote (the reform of the electoral college gaining some ground), as it would mean the redundancy or wholesale change of a large chunk of the innovative analysis he does.  I wasn’t the only fan who interuppted Nate’s attempts to blog the Convention’s proceedings:


When the main podium speeches started, and so did my liveblogging. You can read my efforts to tell the tale of the evening here .

Returning from the Pepsi Center after the speeches had finished, the West Virginia state blogger gave us his take on Hillary’s speech and on Applachian feeling towards Obama – almost all of the delegation had swung behind him and were preparing to cast their votes for him at the nomination roll call.  The blogger also spotted something which hadn’t been picked up upon as far as I was aware: the placards they were given in the hall had Hillary’s website on it and when you clicked on it you went straight through to her donation page.  Could this have been a very clever strategy of the Obama campaign to help the efforts to retire Hillary’s campaign debt?


After some late night comedy in the Big Tent, courtesy of some of the stars from Saturday Night Live, and similar outfits, I hit the pavements and headed home.  On the way I passed delegates clutching their placards and banners – nightly souvenirs.  Fittingly, some people were holding both the Obama and Hillary ones: a sign of unity that encapsulated the evening’s proceedings and the real mood; even if the traditional media were still desparately trying to push the splits story when it wasn’t there.


August 27, 2008 Posted by | Denver Diary | , , , , | Leave a comment

Life imitating art imitating life

How to prepare for Denver? That’s my challenge. In under a week I’ll be there, following the Convention from my base in the Big Tent. So I’ve watched the West Wing – the final two series all about the post-Bartlet primaries and the general election. You can see the Obama candidacy emerging first on screen, mapping the path to the White House for a political outsider with a funny name and non-white skin who proclaims a message of change and fires up the young people and Democrat activists.

Then I watched the entire run of Commander-in-Chief. A Hillary-vehicle, some cynically said, as it offers us a world with a credible liberal woman as the first female occupant of the White House. The series ends as battle lines are drawn for an election run, so we never know what happens next. Intriguingly, the show not only sympathetically features a black chief-of-staff, but also has him about to take up the post of Vice President. A case of hedging bets before the primary season perhaps?

Now, I’m at the Edinburgh Festival. Along with happily sampling the usual comedy, musical and theatrical fare – and some fantastic live African music – I’m trying to discern if there’s an American election undercurrent around. In past years (this is my 4th Festival in a row) I’ve managed to pick up and follow a theme: one year it was blogging and diaries; another it was constitutional reform (you gotta believe it). I am on the hunt to see if US electoral politics is on the menu. And I don’t just mean anti-Bush rants / jokes. I’m looking for Obama and McCain gags, “Si si peude” chants and November references.

Leafing through the fringe guide, there weren’t nearly as many obvious references to election year as I imagined. Only two shows have it in their titles: Jeff Kreisler ‘08 (an American comedian’s stand-up show taking aim at contemporary political and pop culture); and ‘Tina C – Tick my box‘ (a spoof about a country & western singer running for president). Both have ads in the guide which depict electoral images, like ballot papers or campaign posters.

There were another two shows that focused on politics and elections stateside: ‘The Americans’ (a sketch show from a trio of Comedy Central actors depicting the nation as a once proud family on the verge of collapse); and ‘Queen of Wyoming’ (a musical about the protagonist’s father running for Governor of a Midwestern State). ‘Attack of the Soccer Mums’ sounds like it could be an account of the 1996 election, or even a Obama horror story, with women rising up to support Hillary Clinton, but is no such thing; instead being about over-competitive parents. Another that flatters to deceive in its name is ‘Jaik Campbell – The audacity of hopelessness’ – but full marks to the riff on Obama‘s book title. I wonder how many people here actually get that joke though?

I did however manage to dig up one show that Obama would be proud of. ‘Word-up’ is billed as an insight into the hip-hop generation, dealing with the post-segregation world and the fall out from global economics. That sounds more like the spirit of change.

Two long-running Festival favourites that draw heavily on the elections are ‘News Revue‘ (the satirical look back at the year) whose finale features Bush, Condeleeza, Clinton and Obama in a Bat out of Hell pastiche; and ’Political Animal’, a revolving group of comedians talking and joking about politics nightly.

The legacy of Bush‘s ‘War on Terror’ is perhaps the one issue that has captured the passion and imagination of artists. The Patriot Act (a serious play); ‘The Axis of Awesome’; Jesus: the Guantanamo years; Eco-friendly Jihad all draw inspiration in their titles – if not always their content – from that rich artistic vein.

Iraq may be a lot less prominent that in previous years, but Bush’s chief ally – our very own former PM – still attracts an audience; with two shows about him (Tony of Arabia / Tony! The Blair Musical). He is on a par with Mugabe, who also gets two shows about him: ‘I am Mugabe’ and ‘Requiem to Robert Mugabe’. Compare that to Gordon Brown or John McCain: neither get to be the subject of shows. Neither may get to win an election either.

And so the November election. ‘The Americans’ ends with Obama in the ascendant, but possibly about to be denied victory by someone fixing the election for the Republicans. Only time will tell whether life imitates art in this respect.

August 24, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, lessons from America, the world wants obama | , , , , , , | Leave a comment